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Summary: As alley cats, Mr. and Mrs. Gamble were all too familiar with life on the streets. Mrs. Gamble was determined that her litter would not become part of Fidel's reign of terror. So with a very heavy heart, she gathered them in a box and waited for the Pound to pick them up, hoping they would become domestics, or "sticks" in street language. For weeks later, an excited Dennis Crumb had a brand new kitten for his birthday: Romeo. Romeo was saved. He was a "stick." Within weeks, Romeo met Queen Elizabeth, a cat who lived across the street, and she enrolled him in stick school. Romeo quickly learned about life on the street and the war with the alleys. What pained him most was watching his friends lose their lives to Fidel and his henchcats. His decision to take on Fidel and his army could cost him his life: but would it be one, or nine? This is the first book in this fantasy series with cats as the main players.
Type of Reading: bedtime story, independent reading, read aloud book
Recommended Age: read together: 9 to 12; read yourself: 10 and up
Young Reader Reaction: The Nine Lives of Romeo Crumb: Life One is a fantasy story of friendship that 5th or 6th graders could read. I didn’t enjoy the story very much, in part because of the cat violence towards other cats, birds, mice, and bugs. It is understandable that cats need to defend themselves and have a natural instinct to hunt and eat, but there were many unnecessary details on how the cats went about these processes. Also, the sentences were poorly constructed, which made the story drag at many parts. This story didn’t have much appeal to it. Romeo and many of the other cats were portrayed as young children with one track minds. It seemed they could only express one emotion at a time and had one stereotypical personality trait. However, Queen Elizabeth and a few of the older, wiser cats were portrayed much more correctly with human-like personalities the reader can relate to. Another aspect I liked about the story was the look it gave inside cat lives. Cats don’t attend school when they leave their homes, but they do interact with others of their kind and hunt. Although on the whole, I wouldn’t advise this book to readers over 7th grade and would only check it out from the library to read over once.
Adult Reader Reaction: This is a well-crafted, fast-paced adventure. This isn't a book I would have picked out, because I don't like animal fantasy, but I enjoyed it. It is easy to pick sides, yet it is also easy to understand the other cat's point of view. The author has thought this through very carefully, from character development to setting the scene (i.e., understanding how the pound works, creating a cat school).
Pros: Pre-teens will enjoy this fast-paced, action-filled adventure. It is a page-turner they could easily come back to again.
Cons: The story describes violence in detail, and has street elements such as cats going into their version of a bar. This is a good story, so the typographical and spelling errors really stand out (particularly since the author is a former teacher). There aren't tons of them, but enough to make you pause every couple pages. You have characters whose name spelling changes (Maybell and Maybelle), sentences without punctuation, and misuse of words (passed for past).
Borrow or Buy: Borrow, at least. This is a good story, and it is a nice read aloud (where you won't hear the typos).
Educational Themes: There are a number of themes you can draw out from the book, depending on the age and sophistication of the audience. You've got friendship, courage, and teamwork, as well as abandonment, abuse, and evil (i.e., what makes someone evil). Given that this is the first of a continuing series, you can also talk about what happens next, not only for Romeo, but for other characters, too.
Notes: Flesch Kincaid reading level 5.5
Literary Categories: Fiction - animal fantasy, adventure, middle grade series